Preservation Notes from Under the Oaks

Textile preservation is underway at Salisbury House. The pair of Louis XVI style armchairs currently residing in Edith’s Dressing Room has certainly seen better days. The sunshine from the nearby window has not been kind to these two lovely ladies over the years. With the new curtains being installed in this room by the end of December, it was time to stabilize the chairs’ upholstery and preserve what remains of it.

Pair of Louis XVI style chairs.

Pair of Louis XVI chairs from Edith’s Dressing Room. The one on the left has had its upholstery stabilized.

The upholstery of the chair on the left has already been stabilized and originally looked very similar to the one on the right, though more faded. We began with a gentle, low suction vacuum, carefully avoiding all areas of loose threads. Next, polyester organza in a soft buttercup color was inserted under areas of loss on the front of the seat and the top of the back. Using a curved needle and 100% cotton thread, loose edges of the original textile surrounding the loss area were stitched to this sheer underlay. Loose warp threads were straightened as much as possible and secured to the organza to prevent them from moving and retangling. A fine nylon net was then laid over the top and secured around the edges, essentially sandwiching the loss areas and stabilizing the rest of the textile. One more gentle vacuum and the preservation of this Louis XVI style chair was complete.

Close up of underlay
Stitching the historic fabric to the polyester organza underlay.

Two wonderful things about this textile stabilization is its complete reversibility and use of inert materials. If, for whatever reason, we needed to remove these repairs, it would be easy (if not time consuming) to do so and return the chair to the same state it was in prior to the stabilization process. Additionally, polyester organza and nylon are neutral materials that will not harm historic fabric, are inexpensive, and come in a variety of colors, which was perfect for this project. Though cotton thread is not chemically neutral, when paired with acidic silk it will fail before the silk will, provided that we continue to protect these pieces from light damage. After all, we would much rather our repairs fail than the historic fabric!

Before After

Left: Before stabilization and vacuuming. Right: After stabilization and vacuuming.


*Many thanks to Camille Myers Breeze (museumtextiles.com) and the Campbell Center for Historic Preservation Studies (campbellcenter.org) for their professionalism and excellence in preservation education and for providing me with the tools and knowledge to begin the journey of preserving the treasures of Salisbury House.

About Laura Sadowsky
Grants Manager & Collections Conservation Coordinator at Salisbury House

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